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Sci Tech    H1'ed 6/20/14

Existential Threats

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There are biological weapons laboratories that are intentionally breeding bacteria for virulence and facility of transmission, and any one of these could escape into the human environment by accident, or could be released by a crazed individual, or by a nefarious conspiracy.

The Global Economy relies on a complex, integrated and multiply-redundant system, feeding humanity's necessities, and also pandering to our appetite for luxuries. It's all very efficient while it works, but if the global system of trade and transportation of goods should ever collapse, we no longer know how to take care of ourselves with local resources.

Nuclear holocaust is the quickest and most terrifying threat to life on earth, and for most people, is the first such that comes to mind. Even after having pulled back from the escalating competitiono of the Cold War, the United States and Russia still retain arsenals of nuclear-tipped missiles sufficient to destroy the world many times over.

In the 70-year history of the Nuclear Age, there have been at least two occasions when a single individual stood between human civilization and nuclear annihilation. In 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, President John Kennedy stood alone against his Joint Chiefs of Staff, who argued for a preemptive nuclear strike against the U.S.S.R. at a time when the power of the Soviet Union to retailiate was inferior to the United Stats, though still quite substantial enough to cause widespread devastation. In 1983, at a remote missile outpost in Sibera, Soviet Colonel Stanislav Petrov received a (false) radar indication that his country was under nuclear attack. His orders were to launch nuclear missiles against the United States before they could be destroyed in their silos by attacking warheads. He chose to defy orders, and literally saved the world.

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David Wilson has proposed that democracy is an evolutionary development of seminal import, and is what distinguishes human organization from other successful social species. Humans communicate and negotiate, and are able to arrange their cooperation in the interest of a diverse community. Contrast this to eusocial insects, for example, which enlist an army of workers in the interest of a single genome. The human analog of these systems is oligarchy and aristocracy, which Wilson sees as pulling us back toward a lower and less powerful stage of evolutionary development.

We live in a time when most of the developed world pays lip service to democracy, but in reality, deep distortions to democracy pull public policy into the service of short-term corporate profits, and a very small, very wealthy minority.

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Democracy alone may not be sufficient to take us from imperial wars and an extractive relationsihp to nature all the way to world peace and environmental stewardship"but it's a big step in the right direction. Corporatocracy is carrying us in the wrong direction,180 degrees at a rousing gallop. The people have consistently expressed more sensitivity to nature than the politicians, and there has never been a war but that the politicians have had to drag the people into it with ominous appeals to fear more than patriotism.

There's nothing I can do, so why are you reminding me of this sh*t?

I return to Wordsworth. I love this poem (and am grateful to my late father-in-law for introducing me). It was written in 1806.

THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours.
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

Most of us live busy, over-scheduled lives, committed to family, friends, and more projects than we are able to complete. We feel that much depends on our efforts, and, in the last analysis, we are all alone.

We live, after all, in a hyper-individualistic culture, with a sense of who we are that is probably anomalous both across history and across nations. Many Asian cultures are subtly more collective and cooperative than ours. Hunter-gatherer cultures of our hominid ancestors (and extant hunter-gatherers today) are strikingly more communal in their organization. Much of the angst and yearning that we feel from day to day (feelings we have learned to ignore, or to blame on our own failings) may be an echo of our longing for re-connection to nature and to each other. We were never meant to go it alone.

Entertain the possibility that our sense of self may be deeply distorted by culture, that there is another way to feel about our very existence. Explore opportunities for collective political action, not only as a way to save our planet, but also to reconnect to each other, to nature, and to our own souls.

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Josh Mitteldorf, a senior editor at OpEdNews, blogs on aging at Read how to stay young at
Educated to be an astrophysicist, he has branched out from there to mathematical (more...)

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